Live Review: Bassnectar, San Francisco, CA, Sept. 17, 2011

When electronic/dubstep disc-scratcher Bassnectar (a.k.a. Lorin Ashton) hosted his mini-festival at the yawning, expansive Bill Graham Auditorium, the downtown San Francisco venue was overrun with thousands of barely legal ravers chewing on glow-in-the-dark binkys and chattering excitedly (with and without the binky). So popular was this event—also featuring Baltimore-based electronic maestro Dan Deacon and jamtronica duo Big Gigantic—that the lines for any normal concert-going activity—bathroom, coat-check, water fountain—took approximately 18 years. The lines actually seemed to be the only orderly element of the entire shindig, as no one really knew who was playing at any given time, and once you stepped into the dancing throng, you didn’t really care.

The Auditorium was an orgiastic pep rally for misfits. It was the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video if Kurt Cobain had been using Prozac instead of heroin and Nirvana was into LED lights. About half the girls seemed to have picked some lingerie from the Victoria’s Secret catalog and forgot to put actual clothes over them, then complemented their non-outfits with knee socks or furry boots, as though that will keep them toasty. The dress code for guys was a little more diverse, but many seemed to be accessorizing with a fat joint.

There is a burgeoning dub-step movement wobbling its way up and down the West Coast. This makes sense, since missionaries of the genre, including Santa Cruz native Bassnectar, seem to either hail from some hippie city in California or from Denver (which legally gave double meaning to its “Mile High City” nickname years ago). My East Coast friends aren’t as familiar with this species of music, which features clipped samples, breaking beats and that perpetual, rhythmically manipulated, bone-rattling bass. But in places like the Bay Area, there is a massive subculture as devoted to the music and the lifestyle as Deadheads had been in their heyday. In fact, Bassnectar fondly refers to his followers as “Bassheads,” and I spotted many folks sporting T-shirts bearing the name. There are even websites dedicated to dubstep dancing, replete with videos and how-tos.

When Ashton and his mop of early-Anthony-Kiedis hair ascended his throne of keyboards and synthesizers, the crowd flew into a frenzy of lights and skin that didn’t peter out until three hours later when the DJ closed up shop. I was pretty amazed by the endurance of the concertgoers, but Bassnectar seemed finely attuned to his crowd: staff kept us fully supplied with glow sticks, blinking light necklaces and gulps of water, and every time the collective energy appeared to wane, he pumped us up with a Blur or Hawaii Five-0 sample. Ashton—hair flying, silhouetted against a giant illuminated wall—had the entire room pulsing with his glitchy beats, precipitous drops and the wobble-wobble of the mind-numbing bass. After the full-frontal assault on my eardrums, I will probably require cochlear implants.

When I managed to peel my eyes away from the mesmerizing LED light show (which I’m pretty sure is the same thing you see during near-death experiences), I took in the crowd behind me, grinding and flailing on the floor and up in the stands. It resembled the scene you may see when flying over New York City at night, lights flaring and twinkling. A concertgoer decided to show off her pole-dancing skills by climbing up a support beam and performing pretty impressive acrobatics, and another twirled multicolored hula-hoops so dexterously that it made me think she should be onstage as a backup dancer.

With rapid support of young binky-sucking fans who like road trips, the dubstep movement, led by Bassnectar, is poised to infiltrate the rest of the country. Amid the chaos of blinding lights, near-toxic levels of pot smoke and writhing, sweaty bodies, that much was clear.

—Maureen Coulter

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